Muskets fall like two waves of dominoes atop stone walls on the Blue and Gray sides of a quiet little creek. The instant the rifled barrels hit the horizontal they fire, burning men’s eyes with the pungent smoke of spent black powder. The lethal twin wave falters at the end where the stone barriers leap across the water to kiss atop a sturdy arch. There Union and Confederate soldiers converge on foot, shooting as they come, and men fall on the roadway from both sides. When the belligerents are too close for shooting to make any sense the men in the van of the attacks resort to bayonet thrusts and even fisticuffs. The Federals have the greater initial momentum and they nearly get across the bridge before the rebels drive them back over a layer of bodies one man deep. Some of these men are dead, others are moaning and writhing with a lead ball lodged in their innards. Tragically some of the fallen boys in blue survived Shiloh, where the war first attained its presently high but stable plateau of savagery.
Waiting for the counter-attack of the Army of Northern Virginia is a cannon which the Union colonel leading the assault has dared to order lined up on the long axis of the bridge. The piece is loaded with canister shot, which mows the onrushing men down like grass to form a second layer of bodies. Some of these fallen boys in gray survived the artillery hell at Malvern Hill during the Seven Days.
Waiting in turn for this cannon are two guns on the Confederate side positioned on a bend of the creek upstream. One fires bursting shells that kill or maim the Union gunners and another fires several rounds of solid shot. Some of the rounds find their mark. The ones that do not hit the cannon bounce up the slope and assail the walls of a pretty little white church. Eventually the giant shotgun on the Federal side becomes a useless pile of splinters and a prone tube of dented steel. Then another Rebel attack gains most of the bridge, which has become an abattoir.
The colonel leading the attack from the Union side is shot off his horse, but to the wonderment of his own men he immediately stands up and sees the Minie ball was stopped by the leather cover of his little pocket Bible. Taking this as a divine go-ahead, the colonel orders a fresh wave of troops to assail the bridge. Rebel troops are soon driven entirely off the bridge by the new Union assault.
Hearing that his boys are almost out of powder, the lieutenant colonel commanding the other side orders bayonets fixed and leads one more charge. After the furious carnage that ensues the rebels briefly regain sole occupation of the bridge.
Seeing that the colors of the United States have fallen, the colonel takes them up again himself and leads his men back to the fight. Against a foe which has spent all its powder, the Union men soon attain the high summit of a mass of twisting bodies on the bridge. There they continue to fire, swapping their empty muskets for fresh ones handed up to them as though on a conveyor belt, firing again and again. The last of the rebels are either shot, captured, or run away.
The colonel reaches the other side of the creek at last and sees the retreating backs of the enemy.
COLONEL (to a lieutenant)
Tell the commanding general we won a bridgehead here.
The junior officer salutes and turns to obey, but he sees the bridge is stacked with bodies from both sides. Unwilling to desecrate the fallen, he splashes on foot across the creek, which after all is only ankle deep.
Two Confederate Corps commanders watch the Federal lines through binoculars.
from the saddle of his horse. Even before the butcher’s bill has been tendered he knows it has been the bloodiest single day of the war. Neither side seems eager to extend the carnage to a second day. The general commanding First Corps turns to his superior, mounted on a tall gray horse next to him.
General, sir, it is my considered opinion the enemy is not making ready to attack.
The general commanding the Second Corps, Stonewall Jackson, nods in agreement. But General Lee appears to be anguished. His face is flushed as he realizes his invasion of the North has failed. He knows the Union commander is overly cautious, but if (leaping upon some unlikely but horrible misstep) the enemy did decide to move, a large fraction of the Confederate army would be captured or killed before it could be moved to relative safety south across the Potomac River. So he sighs and comes to a conclusion, the only possible conclusion, painful as it is with so much precious blood already invested.
Gentlemen, you are to move the army back over the river. But this is the most important thing: The retreat must be in good order. I do not wish to give those people over there the satisfaction of witnessing this army in a rout.
Longstreet and Jackson snap off perfect salutes, then motion to subordinates and begin to issues their own orders. Soon all over the battlefield men begin to break down their tents. The Confederates begin to cross back south over the Potomac on pontoon bridges stretching from the little tongue of Maryland they continue to hold. And still the short little Union commanding general, watching and waiting somewhere on the long slope up from the Potomac, refuses to budge. Were the forces ten-to-one in his favor, he would still wire Washington complaining of being outnumbered.
Back on the Virginia side of the river one sergeant orders his men to form back up, but some of the less-seriously wounded men ignore him and walk on, making for their own homes. The white church near the bridge, or what is left of it, has been turned into a field hospital for the Union army. Dried blood stains the interior walls, overlaid with sprays of fresh blood. A doctor uses ether to sedate a man. Other men use saws to hack off limbs, which they throw into a pile. Men outside the church on stretchers moan with post-op agony. A messenger arrives at the church by horse and addresses the doctors.
These orders are from the commanding general. Get your wounded on hoof or wheels and get them the hell out of here.
So the amputated legs and arms are thrown into a large pile and burned. Wagons carrying wounded men begin to roll away. Every bump in the road elicits screams from the men inside. No man or woman who witnesses the passing convoy of suffering will say again they love the glory of war.
The last ambulance wagon passes a group of black-clad farmers and their wives riding homely mules, their horses having been prudently moved to a place far away from men of either army who would “borrow” them. On these mules the parishioners of the white church have ridden out, as soon as they deemed it safe, to see what has become of their meeting place. They halt and gasp, for they see the structure is riddled with bullet holes and shell damage, and glimpses of the inside reveal what looks to be the interior of a slaughterhouse. Suddenly, perhaps even mercifully, before their very eyes, their beloved church collapses in ruin.
When the Army of Northern Virginia invaded the Union states for the first time, a copy of Special Order Number 191 outlining their projected movements in Maryland and Pennsylvania was captured and placed in the hands of the Federal commanding general, who rushed to intercept them at South Mountain. Three mountain passes fell to the men in blue after a day of fierce fighting. The rebels were forced to fall back to the Potomac River, and there followed the bloodiest single day of the war, all within earshot of Pastor Carl Keller’s church.
Eight thousand men fell in a cornfield across the road from the church. Four thousand men fell in the woods behind the church. Twelve thousand men fell in front of the church itself. Three thousand men fell at a bridge across a creek whose clean water had been used by to bring converts to the Wedding Banquet of Christ, but now ran red with human blood.
A half mile from the church five thousand men fell in the so-called Bloody Lane which the rebels had occupied and fortified, but which thereafter became a giant open grave filled to the brim with bodies after the Union won through to one end of it with cannon and muskets.
Carl Keller’s church is attended by pacifist farmers who dress in dark clothing and live simply, though their asceticism does not run to the extremes of the Amish. They speak a unique mish-mash of German and English. They baptize by dunking the convert in a local stream with complete immersion, three times just like Jesus did, in contrast to the sprinkling Lutherans, the pouring Mennonites, and even the “single dunk” Baptists. All of those other congregations were of course damned to eternal hellfire for their apostasy on the dunking issue.
After the battle the parishioners volunteer to help bury the dead but when they see the pile of splinters that was their church many of them take to weeping at the damage.
Do not grieve, my friends. Yes, our church is gone but soon an even more beautiful one will stand in its place.
DEACON MARK LANGE
What is to stop the new church from suffering the same fate, brother Keller?
What do you mean, brother Lange?
I mean Virginia lies just over yonder river. They’ll soon be back.
KELLER (shaking his head)
Rumor has it the rebels have taken a real whipping. God willing, they will never be back.
Last month there was a second battle of Manassas, brother Keller. This is a good place to ford the Potomac. The rebels will be back.
Where are your thoughts wandering, Brother Lange?
I say we rebuild our church at my uncle’s farm.
KELLER And leave our own farms? Start all over in Pennsylvania?
Our horses have already been moved up there so as to guard against thieves.
It wonders me you will not help rebuild our church here.
Me and as many of the flock who are of the same mind.
Then let’s have it out. Who is with Deacon Lange for leaving?
The Savitt family, the Hillings, the Bergins, the Zinters move to Lange’s side. They are joined by the Brannens, Krauses, Porters, and the Wustners.
Staying with Keller are the Sunkels, the Clarks, the Martins. Also staying behind are the Johnsons, Hickeys, and Davidsons. Keller sees that his flock has been divided in half, and sighs.
For a decision of this import, surely the Lord must weigh in?
We have already consulted the Lord in prayer, brother Keller.
Keller looks at the faces of Lange’s group, who nod assent. But he is not one to dwell on a losing cause, nor one to dawdle.
Make ready then. You shall leave in a fortnight.
And if it be the will of God, we will make a peaceful new life in Pennsylvania, far from this war.
When the horses were first evacuated to Pennsylvania it was his male cousins on his father’s side who took them, and Mark paid them little mind. But when the horses are returned it is his cousin Joanna who brings them back, all by her lonesome. Mark has never met her before, and he falls stone cold in love at first sight.
Joanna centers her life around equines. On the way to Pennsylvania the weather turns bad. Joanna lets her horse get the tent and she sleeps out in the rain.
Joanna’s father is none too happy to see the way Mark Lange hovers over her when they all arrive at his farm. Her mother is slightly more sanguine. Joanna’s horse is groomed better than she is, and the farm house is ever a sty. Joanna spends more time cleaning her horse than helping her mother clean the house, but the barn is as neat as a pin. Once she had suggested to Joanna that she needed a male companion to quiet some of the rumors going around, so Joanna got herself a stallion. When Mark begins courting her, he finds a strange hair on her coat but he doesn’t get jealous because Joanna has the horse to match.
The most common present Joanna receives at her bridal shower is actual bridles. When it is time to show up for her own wedding she comes in late, wearing riding clothes, because she took too long at the barn.
Three centuries prior King Henry VIII grew tired of his wife so he asked Rome to release him from the marriage. The Pope refused, so he took the whole country of England out of the Church and started his own national Church. Thomas Cranmer, the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, duly announced King Henry’s marriage annulment with Catherine of Aragon. This established the central feature of the Reformation, that human will was ascendant over divine will.
After that it was like a dam had burst. John Knox founded the Scottish Presbyterian Church after a disagreement with Lutherans over the shared meal and church government. John Smyth founded the Baptist Church over the issue of infant baptism and church-state separation. English translations of the Bible appeared, and the new Church of England, controlled now by Parliament, rejected for use in the Liturgy certain books of the Old Testament that had been authored in Greek and had been accepted by Rome and the Eastern Church for centuries.
After the Western Church divided, it began to sub-divide again and again over the smallest issues, such as whether women could wear slacks, or whether playing cards was a sin, or what color the hymnal had to be. Every new sect had their own doctrinal hobby horse to ride. For the Five Corners Free Congregation of Pennsylvania, led by Paster Mark Lange, it was cousin marriage.
God never had a problem with cousins getting hitched. Milcah was married to her cousin, Nahor. They had a granddaughter named Rebecca, who later married Isaac, her first cousin once removed. Isaac instructed Jacob to marry a daughter of Rebecca’s brother. Jacob ended up marrying two of them, both first cousins, Rachel and Leah. Eleazar’s daughters married their first cousins. God even commanded Zelophehad’s five daughters to marry their cousins so their inheritance would remain in the family.
It was precisely to prevent this accumulation of wealth in families (and thus threaten the temporal power of the Papacy) that Pope Gregory I made cousin-marriage absolutely forbidden for all Roman Catholic Christians.
Before the Civil War, no American state banned cousin marriage. In the years following the war thirteen states did make it illegal. American prohibitions against cousin marriages predate modern genetics. The United States is the only western country with cousin marriage restrictions. About twenty percent of all couples worldwide are first cousins. About eighty percent of all marriages historically have been between first cousins.
The incest taboo actually has an internal basis. Many animals including humans have evolved an aversion to mating very close within the bloodlines, like between brother and sister, or son and mother. But the further away a potential mate is from your own genetic inheritance, the less likely you will run across them in everyday life and have the opportunity to get with them. So first cousins represent a sort of optimum point between genetic diversity and sexual availability.
All of these defenses (scriptural, historical, and anthropological) were first compiled by Pastor Mark Lange of Five Corners Free Congregation, who was deeply in love with his cousin-wife Joanna Lange. And all of this would have been a mere footnote in the annals of 19th Century American Protestantism had Mark Lange not made it a doctrine of his church that a man could marry only his cousin, and no other, a sort of mirror-image of Pope Gregory’s prohibition.
One hot day in July Pastor Mark Lange walks to his church and finds all the pews are scattered outside. Union officers are sitting on his pews smoking cigars and resting. Lange stretches his arms out in wonder.
Those are my pews!
Inside the church the Federal commanding General of the week is pouring over maps laid on the very altar.
The rebs hit us on the left yesterday and the right the day before. So if they attack again today they’re going to hit us here, right in the center.
The general turns to go outside, and bumps into Lange. He’s a man with a temper.
Who the hell are you?
I’m the pastor of this church. This is my church!
The hell you say, sir! This is the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac!
General, would you tell your men to lay a lighter hand on church property?
Get out of my sight, parson, or I’ll put a musket in your hand and put you up on yonder stone wall!
Just then a hole bursts in one wall, filling the church with flying splinters. It’s 1307 on July 3, 1863. On Seminary Ridge one hundred forty guns of the rebel artillery have opened up a furious barrage.
The general runs out of the church picking splinters out of his skin and barking orders. The officers sitting frozen on the pews begin to scatter. Shells burst nearby.
Union artillery is quickly brought up to answer the Confederate guns. Pastor Lange remains inside his church, as though his presence would save it, but another hole is made in the wall, severely wounding Lange with splinters. Shells and shot land all around the church.
Lange puts his hands together and prays.
Lord, forgive your stiff-necked servant. West! I see that now, Lord! You wanted us to move West, not North!
A well-placed shot pierces the wall for a third time. Inside, the shower of splinters causes Lange to swoon and fall under the altar. Outside, the church is seen to collapse in ruin with Lange still inside.
The church glows even more white, and is surrounded by a halo. None pay much attention to this. The church recedes into the distance inside the halo.
Lange is trapped inside under fallen timbers, and grunts with pain. A person of indeterminate gender lets Lange see hem.
Be not afraid. You have a large splinter of wood in your kidney.
You also have a broken leg you cannot feel because a beam of wood is pinching. I can’t help you until we lift the beam, but when we do you will feel it. You will most assuredly feel it.
Help me! Anything is better than this!
Yeshua nods, and two servants lift the heavy beam. From Lange’s point of view, the man or woman has a look of compassion but everything turns red. His face grows frozen in astonishment at the pain, and he faints. Yeshua removes the splinter from Lange’s back and closes the wound with merely a touch. With the same effortless ease che makes Lange’s leg, with a compound fracture, straight and whole again. Then the servants carry an unconscious Lange out of the church on a stretcher.
The church is now located on a field in a hollow spherical world, green and blue and white, illuminated by a central sun. As Lange is borne away, is met by a person who is much more obviously female. Mere seconds before her ship was destroyed near the Earth-Sun L2 libration point Yeshua brought her here.
Hello Ariel. Or should I say Jill?
What will become of me now, Lord?
You are free to go, actually. Happy Birthday. You’re b’nei elohim, so you get a second chance. But you’re a very unusual case, Ariel. We know that Jill dominates your will. What is Ariel’s culpability now? What would be the point of a reward and punishment system applied against one who is possessed?
When you say punishment, Lord, are you talking about hell?
Not even Mastema is twisted enough to decree eternal torture as just retribution for a finite set of sins committed over a human lifetime. Even that thing about burying the Antero princess alive and immortal is just so much bluster. No, my dear Ariel, hell is a purely human invention. I won’t hold you to account for what Jill did to you against your will.
And this church? Will it not be missed, even in this wrecked state?”
It will be returned to where and when it was, without even a discernible seam in time.
Of course! Your gift of placing fold-space endpoints anywhere in space and time.
Milcom and Thaumiel must never know we can do that until it doesn’t matter anymore. I must warn you, Ariel, that you will find your freewill restricted in such a way that you cannot reveal it. It’s part of being of the b’nei elohim. But other than that, you are free to stay here, or you may live on Barbelo. I don’t want you complicating things at Sol.
And so Ariel bows to Yeshua with genuine respect and departs to Canterwood on Barbelo, time-frame unknown. To remain incognito from the other B’nei Elohim, Ariel radically alters her appearance and begins giving her name as Joy.
Mark Lange has become well enough to walk. He is brought to a seated Yeshua, who invites him also to sit. They are seated in chairs around a small table on a deck of dark wood, and they are outdoors. Yeshua stares at him intently.
Mark Lange, whom do you say I am?
LANGE (recognizing the question from scripture)
You are the Christ, the son of the living God.
He stands up out of respect, but Yeshua waves for him to sit back down.
You do well to say so, and you are to be praised for doing that on so few clues. Ever since that one Pope foisted the face of his bastard son Cesare Borgia on the faithful most people look for a beard and long hair.
Lange would have never been able to pick the real Yeshua out from a crowd. The Lord has a short pixie cut of dark reddish-brown hair, and no matter how long Mark listens to hem or gazes upon hem he cannot decide if Yeshua is male or female.
Say what you will have me do, Lord Jesus.
Yeshua, please. Not Jesus. The Greeks thought ‘Yeshua’ was too girly and made it Iesous. Then later the English thought Iesous was too girly and made it Jesus.
Servants bring a pane of dark glass and set it down between Yeshua and Lange.
There is much I could tell you, but it is perhaps too much to receive. You wouldn’t believe it. Saulus, the fellow you call the apostle Paul, was sitting right here after I picked him up from Damascus Road and not even he could take it all in.
If my Lord is willing, I will try to understand.
Very good, Pastor Mark. Take this black slab of glass. It is not magic. There is no magic. Your own countrymen will make it in the next century and call it a micro. There is no Swarm where and when you live, but even still, words will appear on this glass when you touch it. You will cause the words to be bound into a book. You will call this book the Holy Buron, and it will become the sacred scripture of your flock when you return.
When I return, Lord? So I am not dead?
No, Mark, you are not yet dead. But you will be returned precisely to where and when you were taken on the last day of the largest battle in the American Civil War. Go home, but take care when you do. I suggest you do not linger so close to the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge.
I am to go home and bind these words into a book called the Buron.
Only a first edition, of course. And you must not be overcome with sloth when you transcribe the black slab, for it will only display my words for a few months. What you and your flock do after will extend the Buron, if you agree.
Command me, Yeshua.
You will gather as many as will go with you and journey to the Nebraska Territory to a place called Green Dome. There you will find a group of original inhabitants to baptize in the manner that you do so well. You will know these people by a sign They shall, to a man, speak your own tongue. They will do so because a young man among them named Jashen, who is also here in the Land We Know for a time, will teach them during the months and years that you make your journey. And there will be another sign, which will become apparent to you after you write the Buron. Then you will be one flock to me, both Red and White, as they are called, although as you will see you are really both just brown and more brown.
The Lord stands up. Mark Lange stands up immediately after, but then Lange kneels once more.
It will be just as you have said, Lord Yeshua.